Tri-City Valley Cats- Class A Short Season NYPenn League- Affiliate of the Houston Astros
Height: 5'11" Weight: 205lbs Hometown: Pacific Palisades, CA Born: 06/19/1991 College: UCLA
We have all heard the saying that “If it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for”. Most of us though do not have the tenacity to wait it out a week or a month and definitely not a year! Well, how about two years? Tyler Heineman’s rise to starting catcher at UCLA may have appeared to be through default, but there is no doubt that it was destiny. Tyler, who was a walk-on freshman at UCLA had always dreamed of playing baseball for the Bruins. There were plenty who tried to discourage him from his dream. As you will learn from reading this interview, Tyler is not one who gives up. After all, he not only patiently waited until his junior year to get a shot at starting catcher, but he also spent that time perfecting his skills and becoming the hot batter that just won the “NYPL Batting Crown!” His ability to rake is complimented with top-notch defensive skills and a unique ability to communicate with pitchers. Whether it’s “Behind the Plate” or “At the Plate”, Tyler Heineman is a player you will want to keep you eye on! Houston is on his Horizon.
Baseball Life: What are your first memories of baseball? Did you grow up in a baseball family?
Tyler Heineman: My first memories of baseball had to be when I was about 7 or 8 playing for my dad’s team with my younger brother where we grew up, the Palisades. My dad played a little of college baseball at St. Lawrence University and my uncle played at Arizona State, I wouldn’t say we were a baseball family, but my brother and I really enjoyed playing.
BL: When you started playing organized baseball, did you start out as catcher? Have you played other positions?
TH: I was definitely not a catcher when I started out. I fooled around a bit when I was really little because I liked all of the gear. I thought it was super cool how much gear they wore and I wanted to feel cool. So I would have my dad throw me balls in the back yard when I got my first set of catcher’s gear as a Christmas gift when I was 8. I was a shortstop and second baseman my whole life up until about 7th grade when our middle school team needed a catcher and asked if anyone was interested.
BL: Growing up did you have a favorite MLB team you followed or a favorite MLB player?
TH: It has changed over the years but I would have to say when I first started to really watch baseball on TV, my favorite team was the Angels. My favorite player was David Eckstein. I was always a small kid growing up and I loved watching him play and give everything he had on every play. I really idolized him. Then when he went to the Cardinals, I became a Cardinals fan and started to like everyone else on that team like Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, etc.
BL: You were a 4-year varsity baseball at Windward High School where you had a batting average of as high as .619, earned All Division Honors, league MVP Honors, set the school single season highest batting average and also competed for San Gabriel Valley Arsenal and at the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Fla. Looking back, what was you proudest accomplishment during your high school career?
TH: I would probably have to say it was when I taught myself how to switch hit going into my sophomore year of high school. I was fooling around in the cage hitting left-handed and I just felt super comfortable and immediately asked my dad if it would be a bad idea if I tried to switch hit. He said it would be a great idea, but it will take a ton of work. I just remember in the summer working with my dad and my uncle in the cages in Santa Monica with a pitching machine throwing super hard and both of them just kept telling me “C’mon! Hit it”. I would have so many blisters on my hand after every day. But, looking back on it now, I’m really glad I learned how.
BL: You had a partial scholarship to Harvard, but declined it and instead chose to attend UCLA as a walk-on. If you had the chance to go back, would you still make the same decision and if so, why?
TH: Absolutely. That was the best decision I have made in my life I think. I got a reality check. I came out of high school believing I could start at a major Division I program right away. But I wasn’t even close to ready. There was so much I needed to learn and get better at. I had amazing coaches that pushed me early on in my college career like Rick Vanderhook, John Savage and Steve Pearse. I remember going into my Fall meeting during freshman year and all the coaches saying that I belonged in a Bruins uniform but I wasn’t ready to play yet. It made me so angry but motivated me to work so hard because I knew that ever since I was little, I wanted to play baseball at UCLA. Going to UCLA and not playing too much my first 2 years was a blessing in disguise.
BL: Your first two seasons at UCLA yielded limited playing time, but in your junior year, opportunity knocked and you answered in style! You became the starting catcher for UCLA and proceeded to become one of the top college catchers in the country. What gave you the strength and inspiration to stay the course through the earlier years and how did it feel when you were finally given the opportunity to play.
TH: Probably all of the people that laughed at me when I said I was going to play for UCLA and be a starter. I try and use all the negative criticism to my advantage because it motivates me to keep going even when I want to give up. My dad would always tell me keep doing what you are doing and when you get the opportunity you will be prepared as long as you put in the work. So, when I got that opportunity, I didn’t want to waste it. I wanted to make sure that I was prepared.
BL: Your baseball career at UCLA was loaded with achievement. As a junior, you were one of 12 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench award given annually to the nation’s top catcher. You were the only catcher to earn All-Pac-12 Conference honors in 2012 and you also earned ABCA Rawlings All-West Region honors. Your batting average was the highest of any catcher at UCLA since 2002. With all of the recognition, what meant the most to you your junior year?
TH: What meant the most was being able to go to Omaha and play in the College World Series with a great bunch of guys. All of those recognitions are great because they helped me get drafted and start my pro career but they only highlight my individual achievements. I know for sure that without the team I was on and the guys and coaches around me that I would not be recognized as much. Playing on a team with outstanding players like the Bruins has allowed me to be recognized so I will give all of those honors back to the UCLA baseball program and John Savage because that team was special.
BL: Then came the Draft. You were chosen in the 8th round by the Houston Astros. Were you expecting to be drafted? What were you doing when you found out? How long did it take you to make the decision to go pro?
TH: I was hoping to get drafted. I was warned that you should never expect anything in the draft because you can easily be disappointed. I was at my house with my mom, my dad, my uncle and my best friend Jesse when I heard my name called in the 8th round. It was a difficult decision because I loved college and loved playing for UCLA and John Savage but I talked to him a lot prior to the draft and he and I agreed that I should go sign if I was drafted in the top 10 rounds.
BL: What has been the most challenging transition between college ball and pro ball?
TH: Just getting used to playing everyday as opposed to 4 times a week was an adjustment. Making sure that my body was ready to go every day was the most difficult thing to get used to when I first signed.
BL: Well known for your skills behind the plate, it is actually your presence “At the Plate” that placed you at the top as you finished as the leading hitter in the New York-Penn league this summer with a .358 batting average. What do you attribute your hitting success to? Have you had to make any adjustments from college to pro ball? Do you have bat preference?
TH: Again, most of the credit goes to my teammates for getting on base and giving me good hitters counts to get good pitches to hit. But I would constantly text my college hitting coach Rex Peters all the time and tell him what I was feeling and ask advice. Because if anyone knows my swing by now, it would be him. I am still in the process of making adjustments at the plate. Working on getting into leverage counts and into a good hitting position where I can really drive the ball consistently from both sides of the plate. In terms of bat preference, I like both ash and maple, but I prefer a bigger bat that has a good head so I can know when I am not keeping my top hand above the ball and driving it.
BL: You were named a NYPL All Star and your team, Tri City ValleyCats, set franchise records this season (your first pro season) The 'Cats also won the Stedler Division title and will compete for the New York Penn League Championship. How awesome is it to be playing in the Championship?
TH: It’s so nice going from a college team that had so much success to a pro team that is doing the same. These Valley Cats are great players and I enjoy playing with all of them.
BL: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
TH: I read a verse of the Bible and pray before I head out to the field. Other than that, I do different things like listen to music or just relax and close my eyes.
BL: Do you have a life motto, saying or verse that you live by?
TH: Not particularly. My dad said something to me when I first got into high school that has stuck with me. “Play as hard as you can, because someone is always watching” Even if no one is in the stands, you know yourself when you are giving it everything you have that day.
BL: Who has been the most influential person in your life?
TH: My Parents for sure. My dad has come to almost all my games my whole life and set me up with trainers and everything I need to be successful. All he asked for in return is my effort. And my mom for always being there when I need her. She is getting so much better at learning the game of baseball and I’m so proud. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
BL: What is your favorite baseball movie of all time?
TH: Bull Durham
BL: If you weren’t playing professional baseball, what career would you have chosen?
TH: I have no idea. I was a Psychology major in college but I would probably want to go to medical school and become a doctor to help people.
BL: What type of music do you like? What song is most played on your I-Pod and what was your walk up song this season?
TH: I like all types of music but my favorite is probably heavy rock. The most played band on my IPod is Breaking Benjamin. And the most played song definitely the song Crawl. My walk up song for this college season was PaperThin Hymn by Anberlin.
BL: What do you like to do during your down time? Do you play golf or video games?
TH: I love golf and I play video games. Too much for my dad’s liking but I like them. I really want to get better at golf because it is so frustrating but yet rewarding when you do well.
BL: Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
TH: Hopefully in the Major Leagues catching. That’s my goal and I am going to work as hard as I can until I reach it.
BL: How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?
TH: I want to be remembered as a guy that continued to prove people wrong and show others that you can chase your dream whatever it may be if you are willing to work for it. Really work for it and the Good Lord willing you can achieve it. Also, I want to be remembered as someone who cares about others and is willing to help other people if they ask.
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